Xunzi on the Role of the Military in a Well-Ordered State

Journal of Military Ethics 18 (1):48-64 (2019)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Chapter 15 of the Xunzi stands as the most comprehensive account of the early Confucian analysis of warfare. Unlike a range of other early, non-Confucian discussions on warfare, particular strategies and tactics are taken to be of secondary importance. Thus, Xunzi refuses to discuss practical military strategy without framing it within a much broader ethical, social, and political context. On his account, a well-ordered, flourishing state necessarily rests upon a particular set of rituals and social norms in which people can cultivate themselves morally. Such a state has nothing to fear from any enemy, no matter how tactically sophisticated or militarily skilled. To many, such a view seems overly. However, given that Xunzi is anything but Pollyannaish in other parts of the text and is quite pessimistic about human nature in general, it behooves us to dig a bit more deeply into his ideas about military affairs and examine whether they can be understood in a more plausible light. This article provides a reading of Xunzi’s views on military affairs that is internally consistent and corresponds with Xunzi’s broader ethical and political views, while also showing why someone of Xunzi’s obvious intellectual acumen might hold such a view.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 74,649

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

The Ideal State for Humans in Xunzi.Doil Kim - 2014 - Philosophy East and West 64 (3):740-758.
Relating the Political to the Ethical: Thoughts on Early Confucian Political Theory.Eirik Harris - 2019 - Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 18 (2):277-283.
Xunzi: Basic Writings.Burton Watson (ed.) - 2003 - Columbia University Press.
Chapter 15: A Debate on Military Affairs.H. G. Xunzi - 2015 - In Xunzi: The Complete Text. Princeton University Press. pp. 145-162.
The Role of Virtue in Xunzi’s 荀子 Political Philosophy.Eirik Lang Harris - 2013 - Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 12 (1):93-110.
The Development of Xunzi's Theory of Xing.Dan Robins - 2001-2002 - Early China 26:99-158.
Li, Qing, and Ethical Transformation in the Xunzi.Winnie Sung - 2017 - Asian Philosophy 27 (3):227-247.
Xunzi's Systematic Critique of Mencius.Kim Chong Chong - 2003 - Philosophy East and West 53 (2):215-233.
Xunzi's Systematic Critique of Mencius.Kim-Chong Chong - 2003 - Philosophy East and West 53 (2):215 - 233.


Added to PP

25 (#460,105)

6 months
2 (#278,853)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Eirik Lang Harris
Colorado State University